Sun Devils settle in, nail down opening win
TEMPE, Ariz. — Torian Graham entered the game and started hitting shots right away, pouring in 3-pointers, flying in for a dunk in transition.
Two years removed from his last game, it was like he never left.
Graham scored 18 of his 23 points in the first half and Tra Holder added 23 points, helping Arizona State open its second season under Bobby Hurley with an 88-70 win over Portland State Friday night.
"I prepared very well this week, all the weeks and years before this," Graham said. "I was ready for it."
Shannon Evans added 19 points, Holder had four assists and Arizona State shot 50 percent to run past the Vikings after a slow start.
The Sun Devils also had a 47-33 advantage in rebounds, led by Obinna Oleka’s 13.
Braxton Tucker had 19 points and Bryce Canda 12 for Portland State, which went 6 for 27 from 3-point range.
"They can score in bunches and watching those two guards, they’re good," Portland State coach Tyler Geving said. "And then Torian Graham is probably playing the best of their team right now."
The Sun Devils were shaky early, missing their first five shots — all at the rim — and turning it over twice before scoring their first baskets 3 minutes in.
Arizona State shook off those early jitters behind Graham.
The 6-foot-4 senior played at Chipola Junior College in Florida, transferred to Houston, then Buffalo. He did not play at either school.
— Sun Devil MBB (@SunDevilHoops) November 12, 2016
Graham came off the bench in his first Division I game and immediately started making shots. He hit consecutive 3-pointers and had a dunk in transition , scoring 13 points in his first eight minutes to help the Sun Devils build a 10-point lead.
Graham hit 7 of 8 shots and Holder had 12 points to put the Sun Devils up 44-30 at halftime.
"He does that every day in practice," Evans said. "You guys are like, wow, but we see that every day."
Arizona State scored the first seven points of the second half and was never challenged, though the Vikings managed to keep the Sun Devils from running away with it.
"I told the kids after, they competed," Geving said. "They had a chance to maybe blow it open, but we fought back.
The Vikings showed grit at times, starting strong and rallying after a couple of Arizona State runs in the second half. A lopsided loss, but the kind of game that should help them once the Big Sky season rolls around.
The Sun Devils picked up a nice, easy win to open the season and got a good look at Graham, who didn’t get quite the same preseason hype as fellow Buffalo transfer Evans.
Guard Sam Cunliffe is Arizona State’s highest-rated freshman since James Harden in 2007, but was unable to make a big splash in his debut due to foul trouble. The 6-foot-7 guard was limited to 14 minutes, scoring 3 points on 1-of-3 shooting.
Arizona State freshman Jethro Tshisumpa is still a bit raw, but at 6-10 with long arms, he can sure send shots back, just like this one .
Portland State opens the season with a difficult road trip, with a trip to Cal State-Fullerton next. Geving would like to get a split in the two games, but the real benefit could be down the line, once the Big Sky Conference season starts.
"We competed, so there’s a lot of positives out of it and some of the things we didn’t do well, at least we’ve got it on film and we can improve on it," he said.
Portland State plays at Cal State-Fullerton on Sunday.
Arizona State hosts Cal Poly on Sunday before heading to Orlando for the Tire Pros Invitational.
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- Obinna Oleka
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- Tra Holder